Please welcome Jana Denardo to the blog today chatting about her short story Corpse Powder in the Once Upon a Time in the Weird West, due out December 16, 2016.
My story, Corpse Powder, is set in Virginia City, Nevada, and I’m a big believer in setting becoming a part of the story. The irony here is I never intended to set the story in Virginia City. I originally planned to use Tombstone, Arizona because I had been there. I felt comfortable with it, and knew the history decently well, except apparently when it was founded. I knew my main character, Dr. Isaac Adler, had been in the Civil War, and was suffering what they would have called Soldier’s Heart. In a vain attempt to escape his PTSD, Isaac moved west but Tombstone was founded fifteen years after the war. That was far too late for what I wanted to do with Isaac.
I scrambled to find a replacement city. What seemed like an aggravation turned out to be fortuitous. I dredged up Virginia City from the depths of memory when I was thinking about haunted places I’d like to visit, and it’s supposedly one of the most haunted cities in Nevada. Doing the research on the city was tons of fun, and really informed the development of the story. It now made tons of sense airship privateers would be in the area, more sense than it would in Tombstone.
Virginia City is home to the Comstock load, a silver vein so vast it actually changed the economy of not just the United States but touched on Europe as well. The town boomed, and it made perfect sense that in a steampunked version of our world they would have airships protect and move the mined silver. Enter Tsela Zahni, the first mate of the airship Aurora. His ship protects the silver running from Virginia City to San Francisco.
As a city of over twenty-five thousand, it was the perfect place for Tsela to lay low when he’s not in the air. Tsela, a Navajo, is on the run from a Skinwalker, an evil witch, could blend into a population that size. I decided against using Native peoples that would have been in the area mostly due to time constraints. I didn’t know nearly enough to do the Ute justice and I’ve been researching Navajo culture for years.
The more I dug into Virginia City, the more fun things I found to use. Before I had to cut this down (hello, wanna-be novella), I had Mark Twain coming back to town where he had once been a journalist. I had worked in the Delta House saloon and Julia Bulette’s brothel. Some of the wealthiest townspeople had cameos. The city turned out to have a thriving Jewish community that could be a support group for Isaac, which took me by surprise. Piper’s opera house, a center of entertainment, got to be in on the action. The opera house still stands today.
There was a wealth of interesting aspects to Virginia City, so much I couldn’t possibly have used it all. Some very cool tidbits (including my lady inventor) ended up on the cutting room floor. The harsh desert helped to highlight the differences between Isaac and Tsela, the former from the green lands back east, and Tsela born to the arid high country. I’m so fascinated by Virginia City I’m planning a trip there to explore it for myself. I hope you enjoy Corpse Powder, and if you like history, poke around in Virginia City a little for yourself. Also I’ll be giving away a copy of If Two of Them Are Dead, my steampunk mystery novella to go with the steampunk theme of Corpse Powder.
This isn’t the same old Wild West. The usual suspects are all present: cowboys, outlaws, and sheriffs. There’s plenty of dust, tumbleweeds, horses, and cattle on the range, but there are also magical gems, automatons, elementals, airships… even dinosaurs and genetically modified insects. Roaming among the buffalo and coyotes, you’ll encounter skinwalkers, mad engineers, mythical beings cloaked in darkness, and lovers who stay true to their oaths… even beyond the grave. On this frontier are those at the mercy of their own elaborate devices, as well as men whose control of time and space provides a present-day vision of the West. There might even be a dragon hidden amongst the ghost towns and wagon trains.
If you like your Westerns with a splash of magic, a touch of steampunk, and plenty of passionate romance between men, these genre-bending tales will exceed expectations.
Hold on to your hats, cowboys and cowgirls. The West is about to get weird, and you’re in for a hell of a ride.
Corpse Powder Blurb
Doctor Isaac Adler came to Virginia City, Nevada, to escape the horrors he witnessed during the War between the States. Despite a living in a thriving Jewish community, Isaac’s having trouble finding his faith… and finding work. Just when he’s contemplating leaving the desert, life takes an unexpected turn when the airship Aurora is attacked by pirates and Isaac is called upon to help the wounded.
The ship’s first mate, Tsela “Alexander” Zhani, is also trying to outrun a nightmare, his in the form of the powerful skinwalker who drove him from his Navajo village. Tsela’s friendship with the handsome doctor responsible for saving the lives of his friends gives both men a fragile hope for a better future. But their demons aren’t as far behind them as they thought.
Jana is Queen of the Geeks (her students voted her in) and her home and office are shrines to any number of comic book and manga heroes along with SF shows and movies too numerous to count. There is no coincidence the love of all things geeky has made its way into many of her stories. To this day, she’s still disappointed she hasn’t found a wardrobe to another realm, a superhero to take her flying among the clouds or a roguish star ship captain to run off to the stars with her.
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